Director and screenwriter Christopher Claridge defines a flophouse as any kind of rental home consisting of a handful of roommates, all struggling to make their way in the real world. Claridge was one of those roommates in a rental in Van Nuys, California, which played host to as many as 20 different roommates over just a few years. Trying to break into film as an actor in the late 80’s and early 90’s, Claridge documented his experiences into “Flophouse,” a well-intended film that pokes fun of those old roommate days – the days when money was scarce, food was comprised of instant noodles, and when the landlord came a knockin’, you went a hidin’. But the translation to film, despite good intentions, comes off more as a sophomoric and tiresome effort, with little plot and character conflict to warrant any interest.
The film follows the misadventures of four roommates and their struggle to find food, careers, and happiness despite a general lack of money and effort. First, there’s Ray, a college chemistry student who seems to be taking a break from his studies to pursue the girl next door, an English lass whose boyfriend poses a serious threat to Ray’s advances. Then there’s Steve, Ray’s best buddy and sidekick who is unemployed, yet always available to lend an encouraging word. To everyone’s dismay, there’s Jim, a guitar playing hippie type who routinely mooches off the others without paying his fair share of the rent. And lastly, there’s Benny, an easygoing guy who seems to be the only one working.
Together, the guys survive on minimal sustenance and minimal motivation. But that all changes when the landlord shows up with an eviction notice, forcing the roommates to move out and start making preparations for their future. At the same time, both Jim and Benny incur accidents that send each to the hospital. As the butt of everyone’s jokes, Jim slips and falls off the roof of the house and Benny, after a customer complains, slips and breaks his back at his place of work. With Jim and Benny out of the picture, Ray and Steve take a fishing trip to gather some food, but their trip is cut short by a group of unruly drifters.
As their eviction date is nearing, the appearance of a disgruntled ex-boyfriend complicates matters. Yet even more problematic is an unexpected FBI raid, which sends the gang on the run and eventually into prison for a crime they didn’t commit. Will Benny settle with his former employer? Will Ray and the girl next door get together? Will the roommates escape from prison? And will they be forced to move out of the flophouse?
Claridge calls the film “a slice of life” and that it may be; however, when I watch a film, I want to be transported to a different place, a different time, a different lifestyle. This film does none of that for me. It’s simply about four irresponsible guys who throw wild parties, live in a pig sty, and torture fellow roommate Jim. While this may be interesting and laughable to some, I find it highly disengaging and purposeless. The characters do not have any obstacles in their way other than their genuine laziness to get up and take action. It’s only when they are issued an eviction notice that reality kicks in. But even that gets sidetracked when Benny comes back with some reality-averse news.
Recently, I had the unpleasant experience of watching Old School, a film that details the exploits of three middle aged men far removed from their college twenties who come up with the preposterous idea of creating their own fraternity to rejuvenate their lives with orgies. It’s childish and pointless with very few laughs from a capable cast. Along the same lines is “Flophouse,” a film that fails because it elects to find laughs amidst anecdotes rather than a moving, developing story with relatable characters. And even with anecdotes, the laughs are scarce because there’s certainly no Frank “The Tank” character to inject slapstick humor when needed. Each of these films tries desperately to create a twist on the old classic “Animal House,” but neither realizes that comedy works best when it is derived from context, when it takes the time to build characters and develop scenes for big comedic punches to pay off.
“Flophouse” is an unfunny, tedious film that outwears its welcome. It has interesting characters who, I’m sure, have more challenging issues in front of them than playing pool on a homemade table with wallpaper or fishing for blackened fish in a polluted lake. Unfortunately, we don’t get to see beyond the mundane. Instead, we get a watered down dosage of “Big Brother” without the fighting, without the sex, and without the drama. And as far as that goes, I’d just as soon turn the TV off and experience life in my own flophouse.
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